The perfect birthday cake

Recently, I’ve been asked to make a number of birthday cakes.

Some of these requests have been normal birthday cakes (Black Forest gateaus, red velvet cakes) whilst others have been slightly more unusual (“pinata” cakes, Tennessee mountain stacks).

The latest request, however, was proving tricky – there was to be no chocolate (very Chinese!) and it had to be able to withstand the British summer (cream, frosting and jellies were out of the question)!

I was stuck. The day before the birthday party, I spent 3 hours on pinterest, google and bonappetit looking for inspiration. And then it hit me.

A pistachio baklava cake.

Recipe (adapted from


For the cake:

  • 2 cups Panko crumbs;
  • 2 cups roasted pistachios;
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder;
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda;
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon;
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg;
  • 4 large eggs;
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar;
  • 1 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled;
  • Zest of 1 orange;
  • 1 pack filo pastry (it takes too long to make!)

For the syrup:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar;
  • 1/4 cup honey;
  • 3/4 cup water;
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice;
  • 1/4 teaspoon rose water;
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange flower water


  • Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 (190 degrees c);
  • Line and butter a 9 inch cake tin;
  • In a food processor, blitz the panko crumbs, the baking powder and soda, the nutmeg and cinnamon, the orange zest and 1 cup of the pistachios;


  • Whisk together the sugar and the egg until thick and pale;


  • Fold in the blitzed mixture slowly and then drizzle in 1 cup of the melted butter. Fold gently;
  • Pour the mixture into the pre-lined cake tin and bake for 25 minutes;


  • Whilst the cake is cooking, make the syrup by slowly simmering all the syrup ingredients (excluding the rose water and orange flower water) until it thickens. Keep an eye over this as it will burn quickly!;


  • Once the syrup is the consistency of honey, mix in the rose water and orange flower water and mix well (the smell at this point will be incredible!). Leave to cool slightly;
  • Take the cake out and leave to cool;
  • Blitz the rest of the roasted pistachios;
  • Cut the filo sheets using the base of the 9’inch cake tin as a template. You should end up with c.20 circular filo sheets.

image8 image9

  • Using the melted butter and a pastry brush, butter the base of the tin and then place a filo sheet on top. Butter the filo sheet, and sprinkle on some ground pistachios and a drizzle with a little syrup. Repeat with half of your filo sheets;
  • Bake this for 10 minutes at gas mark 5. Try to flip the filo sheets half-way through baking to ensure crispness all over;
  • Repeat the above 2 steps with the remaining filo sheets;
  • Butter the leftover filo cut off’s and bake until crispy. These can be used to decorate the cake;
  • To combine the elements, brush the cake all over with syrup;
  • Place the cake above one of the filo stacks and sprinkle the cake all over with ground pistachios;Place the remaining filo stack on top of the cake. Sprinkle with the remaining filo shards, ground pistachio and syrup;


  • Enjoy!

The filo adds some much needed texture to the cake whilst the syrup adds moisture and richness to the cake.

The cake will keep for a couple of days (if it lasts that long!). This cake, however, should not be fridged – it will become quite dense if you do so and the filo will become flat!



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